There Are Four Keys "Ifs" To A Notre Dame Championship Run
So what does Notre Dame need to do to win a national championship in 2020? ESPN staff writer Bill Connelly broke down the “ifs” that need to happen for the nation’s top teams to do just that.
His breakdown began with teams that had at the fewest “ifs”, which was just two for Clemson and Ohio State. There are four ifs for Notre Dame, so let’s take a look at what Connelly believes needs to happen for a Fighting Irish title in 2020.
Here is Connelly’s four ifs and my analysis:
“If ... a new receiving corps clicks. Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish have ranked between eighth and 19th in SP+ for five consecutive years. (Not a coincidence -- their past seven recruiting classes have all ranked between ninth and 16th, per ESPN.) That's pretty good living! But he wants more: He dumped offensive coordinator Chip Long in favor of 27-year-old Tom Rees, who has worked for three years with quarterback Ian Book … There are lots of youngsters to choose from, including sophomore Braden Lenzy and blue-chip freshman Jordan Johnson. Someone needs to come through.”
Analysis: I’m confident in the pass catchers thriving in 2020, especially if you throw the tight ends into the equation. Wide receiver is one position where experience isn’t as impactful as it is at other positions, especially if the scheme is sound. We saw that for Notre Dame in 2014 and 2018. Staying healthy and the staff keeping things simple are my only concerns for the wideouts and tight ends in 2020.
“If ... a star running back emerges from a crowded race. The Irish return three running backs (C'Bo Flemister, Jafar Armstrong and Jahmir Smith) who didn't do much with the first-string action they were given. The line returns six players who have combined for 115 career starts, but the backs have to do their part. And if they don't, you figure it's only a matter of time until blue-chip freshman Chris Tyree gets a long look.”
Analysis: While I agree with part of his analysis, especially the part about backs doing their part, I don’t believe a “star” running back much emerge. Reason number one is I do not believe a running back needs to be a “star” for an offense to be elite. Of course it helps, but it’s not nearly as important as getting high-level play up front or at quarterback. A rotation of three players who perform their roles well will be enough if the line is as good as it should be. Having a quarterback with Book’s running ability helps, as does having athletes on the perimeter like Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III, receivers who combined for 245 yards last season.
“If ... young DBs play like veterans. Thanks to a diverse pass rush and a veteran secondary, the Irish defense ranked ninth in ANY/A allowed last season. But both starting safeties and lead corner Tony Pride Jr. are gone, and while veterans like corner TaRiq Bracy and NC State transfer Nick McCloud could be ready for larger roles, success will be determined by how many blue-chippers from the 2019 class -- sophomore Kyle Hamilton and redshirt freshmen KJ Wallace, Litchfield Ajavon, Isaiah Rutherford, Cam Hart -- look the part early in their careers.”
Analysis: This analysis is spot on. No matter how good the front four plays, if the Irish want to win a title the secondary must play well in the big games. Hamilton should be outstanding, the other young players are certainly important, and McCloud transferring in was a big win for the staff, assuming he is healthy. But if the secondary is going to play championship caliber football I believe Bracy and junior safety Houston Griffith will hold the keys.
“If ... the Irish overcome a lack of beef. Run defense was an issue -- the Irish were 49th in rushing success rate allowed -- and as with Oklahoma, that can be tied partially to pure size. Only two of 10 returning contributing linemen are listed above 286 pounds. A linebacking corps led by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could be incredible, but it helps when your linemen can occupy blockers better.”
Analysis: This is a fair criticism of the Irish front. Notre Dame’s interior players did get pushed around at times last season, and if the Irish run defense is going to make the improvements I’ve written about this offseason, the interior must be the key.
They aren’t going to all of a sudden weigh 300 pounds across the board, so a key is defensive coordinator Clark Lea taking advantage of the quickness and penetration ability the group brings to the game. A breakout season from rising junior Jayson Ademilola and continued improvement from sophomore Jacob Lacey could be the key to this unit playing to its peak.
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